Arlington Moves Ahead on New East Falls Church Plan

EFCWith solid constituencies present on opposite sides of the issue, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to advertise and commence to hold hearings with an eye to adopting an ambitious “East Falls Church Area Plan.”

With solid constituencies present on opposite sides of the issue, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to advertise and commence to hold hearings with an eye to adopting an ambitious “East Falls Church Area Plan.”

The plan was developed over three years by a special task force seeking to provide a vision and direction for the area around the East Falls Church (EFC) Metro station for a massive increase in activity when it becomes the transfer point for riders taking the Metro’s new “Silver Line” to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport.

The process was first initiated in 2000 by the EFC Community Association when it first realized the added importance the Metro station there would have once the “Silver Line” extension was completed.

“We realized that silence was not an option, that either we took action to create a vision of what we want and don’t want developed there, or developers will do it on their own,” said John Wilson president of the EFC Civic Association.


OPPONENTS TO THE Arlington County Board’s decision to advertise to the public the new East Falls Church (EFC) Plan for mixed use development at the EFC Metro station stood in unison every time someone sharing their view stood to speak to the Board Tuesday night. (Photo: News-Press)

The association surveyed residents in the area in 2005, and three years ago, the County Board forged its task force, including representation from numerous area community organizations, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA), Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

A total of no fewer than 32 meetings, three public hearings, 12 community presentations and constant web site presence have attempted to inform the public about the plan, although a number of citizens protesting it Tuesday night said they’d been kept totally in the dark.

On June 9, the task force voted 14-4 in favor of the plan, and of bringing the plan to the County Board. That included a 7-3 vote in favor from task force members living within mile of the EFC Metro station.

Mike Nardolilli, chair of the EFC Task Force, told the Arlington Board at Tuesday’s meeting that the concept behind the plan is to create a “Transit Town” inclusive of restaurants and retail, four-story townhouse buildings, a central open space, easy pedestrian access, including a new western entrance to the Metro station, a central open space plaza, and buildings aligned along I-66 that could go as high as nine stories.

He said that level of density, while far less than at Metro stations along Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, is the minimum needed to make the plan viable from an economic development standpoint. The plan calls for no demolition of any single family home currently in the area, and the EFC station already has the second-highest use by bicyclers in the entire Metro system, he pointed out.

“Be reminded that in only three years, the ‘Silver Line’ will open, and will connect East Falls Church to the 12th largest employment center in the entire U.S. in Tysons Corner,” Nardolilli said.

But a solid turnout of opponents to the plan expressed concern mostly for the high buildings and lack of parking. The plan’s deliberate “under-parking” of the area, designed to encourage use of public transit, would among other things have the effect of discriminating against the disabled, it was pointed out.

Were the Arlington County Board to adopt the plan, it would not have any force in law unless they went on to be written into formal comprehensive land use plan revisions or other legal forms. Arlington Board Chair Jay Fisette summarized the comments of 22 citizens who spoke out both for and against the plan Tuesday, saying he’d taken notes on all the concerns expressed, and tasked the County Manager and his staff with providing responses to all the concerns by the next meeting.

One possible hitch is the fact that the biggest landowner in the targeted area is VDOT, which owns two-thirds of the current commuter parking lot on the north side of the station, and has its own set of restrictions, including retaining land for the possible future widening of I-66. VDOT is not expected to weigh in on its reaction to the EFC Plan until mid-August.

Compared to much higher buildings in Ballston, the nine-story maximum size for some buildings in the EFC Plan would not constitute over-development, it was argued.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smart Growth hailed the EFC Plan, saying it had been reviewed by his group and is “a well designed plan,” adding the proposed building heights are “fair.”

“There is too much money being spent on driving around,” he said. “We need mixed use walkable communities.”
When opponents to the EFC Plan went to the microphone for their two or three minutes of comments, they were accompanied by others sharing their views standing during their remarks. This happened 14 times.

William Salkind said that “it is wrong to say that development is inevitable” there. Jerry Auten noted that 90 trees would come down. Steven Fuchs said that VDOT requirements are being ignored in the plan. Nancy Davis said there are no specifics about so-called “community benefits” that would allow for buildings to reach nine stores. John Shumate urged to board to “abandon its sense of urgency” about the plan. Robert Atkins said the plan will allow for no future widening of I-66. Donald Masters said it would overburden area schools.

The City of Falls Church’s Planning Department director Sue Cotellessa told the News-Press she’s keenly aware of the EFC Plan and that a City representative was assigned to attend the Tuesday meeting. Restaurateur Ramon Campet, co-owner the La Cote D’Or restaurant included in the target area of the plan, was present but did not speak.

“This is a framework for creating a Main Street, not a downtown,” commented the County Board’s Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada chimed in that the plan should “reflect the unique character of East Falls Church,” and not be like the “R-B (Rosslyn-Ballston-ed.) corridor.”

Approving advertising the plan Tuesday “will not preclude the very vigorous debate that will come later when specific projects are proposed,” said Board member Barbara Favola.

The EFC Plan is slated to come back to the County Board for hearings on June 28 and July 10, with possible adoption on July 10. The complete report on the plan is available on Arlington County’s website.